Julia Wilbert’s aunt died in June 2007, and the benefits she received every month for being the widow of a veteran should have stopped coming.
But no one told the Bank of America branch where the checks were being sent that her aunt had died, and the payments kept coming for almost eight more years, with more than $112,000 ending up in Wilbert’s hands, federal prosecutors say.
Now, the former Carmichael resident is expected to enter a guilty plea to theft of government property and repay the entire amount as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.
“She’s very remorseful and sorry for her conduct,” Sacramento defense attorney Don Heller said Monday, adding that Wilbert already has transferred the $112,274.97 to an account that will be handed over to the government.
Wilbert was charged in the case last Tuesday, the same day she signed a plea agreement in a case that could have netted her up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
She is scheduled to be arraigned on Jan. 16 in federal court in Sacramento, then appear before U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller the next day for a change of plea hearing and face sentencing later.
Court documents do not identify Wilbert’s aunt by name, referring to her only as “Person 1” and noting that Wilbert had access to her aunt’s bank account after her demise and “made periodic withdrawals and electronic transfers of the money being deposited by the VA into that account.”
The transfers ranged from a $24,947.61 transaction in September 2009 to pay Wilbert’s personal Chase credit card balance to a June 2012 cash withdrawal of $17,603.97, court records say.
The windfall ended when a VA investigator notified the bank in September 2016 that Wilbert’s aunt had died. In a June 1, 2017, interview with federal agents Wilbert described changing that mailing address for the account from her aunt’s to her own, court papers say.
Wilbert told investigators she reported the death to county authorities, life insurance companies and several banks, but also acknowledged “spending the money in Person 1’s account on her own personal expenses,” court papers say.
“She explained that she was aware that money coming into the Bank of America account ... was government money, and that she acted out of ‘personal greed,’ ” court papers say.
Wilbert added later that she was “absolutely stunned” at her own actions, court papers say.
“Someone made a serious error in judgment, and is now cooperating with the government,” Heller said. “I have an expectation that a plea will be entered and she will make full restitution, and then it’ll be up to the district court judge to decide on sentencing.”